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Tigers v Sharks
Allianz Stadium
Friday, 7.35pm

This match could prove the defining moment in the seasons of both the depleted Wests Tigers and the under-siege Cronulla Sharks.

Mick Potter’s Tigers, last on the competition table with just two wins, find themselves in deep trouble after losing their past five games, including a 40-4 drubbing at the hands of the Bulldogs last Friday. They do, however, have a reasonable excuse – their injury list is longer than any other team’s, with Braith Anasta, Blake Ayshford, Chris Lawrence, Lote Tuqiri, Keith Galloway and Tim Moltzen among others currently sidelined. That choc-a-bloc casualty ward has seen the Tigers blood a host of youngsters, some ahead of their time. Not an easy time for a new NRL coach.

“I’m confident in some of these young guys coming through, but at the moment they need to do it together and we’re not doing it together enough,” Potter told in the sheds after the Bulldogs match.

“There’s going to be some guys who are going to stay, and some are going to go and spend a bit more time in state cup to get more experience. That’s just the nature of the beast.”
Cronulla, meanwhile, ended a four-game losing streak when Jeff Robson kicked a field-goal to get over the top of the Knights in golden point at Hunter Stadium last Sunday.

The Sharkies have endured another annus horribilis, no doubt in part due to the ASADA investigation, but their last-start victory – their third of the season – keeps them within one win of the top eight. 

A victory to either team here will not only provide a timely boost up the table but a much-needed confidence boost, too.
For the Tigers, coach Potter has named Sauaso Sue to start at prop. Tim Simona comes into the centres for Bodene Thompson, who reverts to the bench. Eddy Pettybourne also starts, with Shaun Spence manning the timber alongside Jack Buchanan.

The Sharks have made only minor changes to the team that beat Newcastle. With Paul Gallen out with a knee injury (likely to have him sidelined for two weeks), coach Shane Flanagan has selected back-rower Jayson Bukuya in the 17-man squad, with Chris Heighington moving into the Sharks’ starting side wearing No.13. Debutant Sosaia Feki, solid in his first NRL outing, has retained his place on the wing.

Watch Out Tigers: If the Tigers are expecting the Sharks to roll over and concede without their inspirational captain Paul Gallen, they’d better think again. In fact, Cronulla’s recent record sans ‘Gal’ has been actually pretty decent – in the nine club games he missed last year, the team lost just four, beating the Storm and Broncos in the process. Last week they showed they have the mettle to win without their captain, too – he played just three minutes of the match against the Knights.  

Watch Out Sharks: The only two matches the Tigers have won this year have been ‘home’ matches in Sydney, against the Eels and Panthers respectively. Even though this match is to be played at Allianz, it’s still a Tigers-hosted match… and for that very reason the Sharks should be on guard. That, and the fact the Wests Tigers have a better record against the Sharks than any other team in the NRL – they have won 13 of 14 clashes since 2003!

Plays To Watch: Benji’s silky-smooth sideways hop, skip and a jump, ball nestled in the crook of his left arm, before exploding to the right; Luke Lewis’ inspirational attack and defence – his extra efforts proved the difference last week in his side’s heart-starting one-point win over Newcastle; Tigers prop Aaron Woods coming up against one of the biggest packs in the NRL – is this his toughest Origin audition yet?

Key Match-Up: The scoreboard’s all that counts, and it hasn’t proved too favourable for either the Tigers or the Sharks this year – in fact, they’re the two worst-performed teams with ball in hand so far in 2013. The Sharks average just 14.6 points and 2.5 tries (15th in the NRL) while the Tigers average 13.4 points and 2.4 tries per game (last in the NRL). The deciding factor here: who’s going to crack? Statistics point to a Cronulla victory – they have a much better points-conceded (16.9 points per game compared with the Tigers’ 25.4) record.

Where It Will Be Won: Perhaps the only thing between the Sharks and victory here are the playmaking skills of Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah – they make or break the game for both teams in this clash. The mercurial five-eighth (he played halfback last week but slots back into pivot here), one of the most elusive creators in the NRL, has traditionally enjoyed meeting the Sharks, too – last year he scored a try, kicked two goals and nailed the winning field-goal. 

The Tigers’ No.9, meanwhile, also enjoys clashing with Cronulla – in 2011 he scored a hat-trick in their 30-22 Round 26 victory!

The History: Played 21; Wests Tigers 15, Sharks 5, drawn 1. This is the first match the teams have played at Allianz Stadium, but the Tigers have the upper hand in the past 10 matches, winning eight of the 10 meetings.

Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Chris Butler; Video Referees: Jason Robinson & Matt Rodwell.

NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.

Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 9.30pm; Fox Sports 1 – Delayed 1am.

The Way We See It: Try as we might, we just can’t see things getting much better in the short term for the wounded Wests Tigers. Missing a host of experienced first-graders, the cupboard’s simply too bare for the depleted Tigers to compete with the Sharks in this one. Cronulla by 14 points. 

*Statistics: NRL Stats
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